Bob’s story blends coincidence with collaboration and hope. The coincidence involves the 62-year-old West Chester man’s best buddy, “Jake,” a 165-pound Newfoundland and therapy dog that Bob trained for duty. The collaboration involves Bob’s multidisciplinary team of physicians at the Brain Tumor Center and the UC Cancer Institute. And the hope comes in the form of a novel brain cancer vaccine study for which Bob qualified.
Bob, a trim, athletic man who last October zipped through the Walk Ahead for a Brain Tumor Cure 5k in 23 minutes and 13 seconds, began training with Jake two years ago, and the pair soon qualified as a therapy team.
“About half-way through our experience, eight or nine months ago, we qualified to come to the UC Medical Center,” Bob says. “We’d been here three or four times as a therapy team when I myself had to come here as a patient, with a glioblastoma multiforme — it’s called a stage 4 brain cancer in my language. And by a shared coincidence, this is the only hospital where Jake and I go into the neurosurgery area, because Jake’s a big enough dog that people who aren’t real mobile can just reach their arm out to pet him. And very coincidentally, I ended up in the neurosurgery area myself.”
Norberto Andaluz, MD, a neurosurgeon with the Mayfield Clinic, removed as much of the glioblastoma as possible. Unlike solid tumors that have clear borders, the glioblastoma tumor is diffuse and infiltrative and therefore difficult to remove. Following surgery, Bob underwent radiation treatment under the guidance of the Luke Pater, MD, a UC Health radiation oncologist, at the Precision Radiotherapy Center in West Chester, Ohio.
And almost simultaneously, Bob says, he was enrolled in a research study at the UC Brain Tumor Center under the care of Richard Curry III, MD, a UC Health neuro-oncologist. As a study participant, Bob is helping scientists investigate the potential benefits of a vaccine designed to help the immune system inhibit the growth of cancer cells that contain the EGFRvIII protein.
“In addition to surgery and radiation, they poke me in the leg six times once a month for the experimental vaccine,” he says. “I’m not sure what’s helping me, but something’s doing it and I give credit to the docs and everyone else. This vaccine may have made an impact on how well I’m doing right now.”
Because the vaccine study is “blinded,” however, Bob does not know whether he is receiving the actual vaccine or a placebo.
Stephen Strakowski, MD, Vice President of Research for UC Health and the Dr. Stanley and Mickey Kaplan Professor and Chair of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neuroscience, praises Bob and other study participants as the “real heroes” of clinical research.
“We work with them at a time that is the most difficult in their lives,” Dr. Strakowski says. “They realize that even if this research doesn’t help them, it hopefully will help the next person. It’s just not possible to say enough about the courage of our patients who participate in research and how thankful we are that they do. Because without them, we couldn’t make the advances in healthcare that really change how people get better.”
Bob thanks all who have cared for him within the UC Brain Tumor Center, the UC Cancer Institute and UC Health. “Considering it’s cancer, it’s been a very good experience,” he says. “I almost have no symptoms, although I do have some memory loss.”
And, he adds, he was “not happy” with his 7:29 pace in the Walk Ahead 5k. Still, it was good enough to beat his neuro-oncologist, Dr. Curry, by 13 seconds.
– Cindy Starr
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Hope Story Disclaimer – This story describes an individual patient’s experience. Because every person is unique, individual patients may respond to treatment in different ways. Outcomes are influenced by many factors and may vary from patient to patient.